I started working as a chef at the age of 18 in Tokyo. After seven years I moved to Peru to open a restaurant, and that was where I developed my culinary style – Japanese techniques combined with Peruvian ingredients. A lot of people call it fusion food, but I call it the Nobu style of cooking.
People like simple food, so my cooking isn’t very complicated. I try to make my food as healthy as possible too. For example, I discovered monkfruit extract – a natural sweetener with zero sugar and zero calories – several years ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to use it in place of sugar.
Even in London and New York, Japanese food used to be very traditional. But after my restaurants became popular, things changed, with more Nobu-inspired restaurants opening up all over the world.
One of my favourite Nikkei [Japanese-Peruvian] restaurants is Arai Shoten in Tokyo. I’ve been there a couple of times and I personally know the chef, who has spent some time in Peru.
In Milan, I like to go to a restaurant called Paper Moon. It does nice pastas, pizzas and salads. One of my favourite dishes there is the parmesan risotto with lots of fresh white truffles.
World of Nobu is my final cookbook. 71 chefs from Nobu restaurants all over the world collaborated on this project. So far I have six cookbooks and I still have new recipes up my sleeve, but I wanted to introduce the next generation of chefs with this volume.
Customers have spent money on us, so now I want to give back to the people. In the US, parts of the proceeds from World of Nobu will be donated to a different charitable foundation every six months; in the UK, the funds will go towards The Childhood Trust.
The idea for Nobu hotels came from [my close friend and business partner] Robert de Niro. First we built a hotel in Las Vegas, followed by one in Manila. Then people started asking us to open hotels in Spain, Brazil and so on. We currently don’t have any plans to open anything in Singapore, but you never know!
Today, every Nobu hotel is known for its food, and this extends even to the room service. But they each also take on features of the local neighbourhood – for instance, Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace Las Vegas is very extravagant, whereas Nobu Hotel Shoreditch in London is more stripped back and industrial.
My staff is like one big family. Over the past 25 years, so many people have progressed within the company. Busboys have become waiters, captains, assistant managers and so on. Many chefs have also gone on to open their own restaurants. Sometimes I meet them and they say to me, “Chef Nobu, thank you so much, I opened my own restaurant because of you.” I like to see staff grow – happy people are key to a successful business.
I’ve been to 63 different countries so far. Whenever I visit Singapore, I can feel the energy of the city. There are so many things going on: The Grand Prix, casinos, hotels… it’s become very sophisticated.
The food in Singapore is very interesting as well. On one hand, you have restaurants like db Bistro at Marina Bay Sands with very sophisticated cooking, and on the other hand, you have street [hawker] food. It’s a mix of different cultures.
I travel 10 months a year, so at home, I don’t cook. Instead, my wife cooks for me. But once a year, after Christmas, I invite my family and a couple of other guests to the sushi bar in my house in Los Angeles and make sushi for them.
When I am not travelling, I don’t want to see anybody. I like to hide and stay at home with my family. Sometimes I read and sometimes I play golf. I also have a house in Hakone with a private onsen, where I go maybe three or four times a year. I love taking a hot spring bath before bed, and then sleeping for eight hours straight!
Photography: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images for Nobu Restaurants